Scientific & Common Names:
Sugar apples, also known as custard apples, are the most widely grown of the Annona species
The original home of the sugar apple is unknown. It is commonly cultivated in tropical South America, not often in Central America, very frequently in southern Mexico, the West Indies, Bahamas and Bermuda, and occasionally in southern Florida.
The sugar apple tree requires a tropical or near-tropical climate. It ranges from 10 to 20 feet in height with an open crown of irregular branches, and somewhat zigzag twigs. Deciduous, oblong and blunt tipped leaves, are alternately arranged on short, hairy petioles, and range in size from from 2 to 6 inches long and 3/4 to 2 inches wide. The leaves are dull-green on the top side, and pale with a bloom on the bottom. The leaves are also slightly hairy when young, and are aromatic when crushed. Along the branch tips, opposite the leaves, the fragrant flowers bloom in groups of 2 to 4. The flowers are also oblong, 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length and never fully open. They have drooping stalks, and 3 fleshy outer petals, yellow-green on the outside and pale-yellow inside with a purple or dark-red spot at the base. The compound fruit is nearly round, ovoid, or conical and is about 2 1/3 to 4 inches long. The thick rind of the sugar apple is composed of knobby segments, generally pale-green, gray-green, or bluish-green. Many of the fruit segments enclose a single cylindrical, black or dark-brown seed about 1/2 inches long. There may be a total of 20 to 38 seeds, or more, in the average fruit; however, some trees bear seedless fruits. Seedlings 5 years old may yield 50 fruits per tree in late summer and fall. Older trees rarely exceed 100 fruits per tree unless hand-pollinated. With age, the fruits become smaller and it is considered best to replace the trees after 10 to 20 years.
When ripe, the segments of the sugar apple begin to separate and reveal the mass of conically segmented, creamy-white, glistening, delightfully fragrant, juicy, sweet, delicious flesh of the fruit. The ripe sugar apple is usually broken open and the flesh segments enjoyed while the hard seeds are separated in the mouth and spat out. It is sweet and luscious, making it well worth the trouble. The name “custard apple” comes from the fact that the flesh is creamy white to light yellow, and resembles and tastes like custard.
While generally eaten in it’s raw form, the flesh of sugar apples can be pressed through a sieve to eliminate the seeds and then added to ice cream, smoothies, or blended with milk to make a cool beverage. It is generally not cooked.
Nutrition and Practical Uses:
The sugar apple is high in vitamin C and is a moderate source of B-complex vitamins. Sugar apples also contain several poly-phenolic antioxidants, the most prominent is Annonaceous acetogenins. Acetogenin compounds are powerful cytotoxins and have been found to have anti-cancer, anti-malarial and de-worming properties. The fiber in sugar apples is also supposed to slow down the absorption of sugar in the body, reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Throughout tropical America, a decoction of the leaves alone or with those of other plants is imbibed either a tonic, cold remedy, digestive, or to clarify the urine. The leaf decoction is also employed in baths to alleviate rheumatic pain. In India, the crushed ripe fruit, mixed with salt, is applied on tumors. The bark and roots are both highly astringent. The bark decoction is given as a tonic and to halt diarrhea. The root, because of its strong purgative action, is administered as a drastic treatment for dysentery and other ailments.
Toxicity and Warnings:
The seeds are acrid and poisonous. In fact, powdered seeds, also pounded dried fruits serve as fish poison and insecticides in India. A paste of the seed powder has been applied to the head to kill lice but must be kept away from the eyes as it is highly irritant and can cause blindness.